Today, in the twenty-first century, a new generation of young architects is trying to tackle a new set of challenges that have emerged from a consumerist and capitalist civilization
What role do young architects play in changing today’s design scenario?
Iconic designs have always reflected the needs of their contextual society. The twentieth century saw the rise of the modernist architectural movement as a result of the industrial revolution and promoted new kinds of factory-made materials in clean and simple structures. In 1919, a young Walter Gropius started the Bauhaus School that brought artists from a non-essential sector of the economy to its forefront and revolutionized the world of design. The movement eventually led to a colossal shift in the public’s reception of art because it answered the people’s need and longing for organized conditions during a time of great civil unrest and war.
History has proven that designers have always evolved their work to cater to problems of the changing world. Today, in the twenty-first century, a new generation of young architects is trying to tackle a new set of challenges that have emerged from a consumerist and capitalist civilization. The contemporary world now requires its society to look back to its roots. For these young architects, striking the right balance between various dualities like global-local, public-private, and naturistic-urbanistic in today’s fast-paced world is crucial.
“Each new situation requires a new architecture.”
– Jean Nouvel
Rapid industrial development and urbanization have led to a great ecological decline. The need for a sustainable built environment has forced many young architects to look at the broader picture of our planet’s future. Chris Precht, founder of Studio Precht (formerly Penda) believes in creating resilient cities by the means of future-proof buildings that give back to the community. Working off the grid from a pocket of nature in the mountains of Saltsburg, Precht conceptualized ‘The Farmhouse’, an apartment building that grows its own food.
In an attempt to connect the built-system and the ecosystem, ‘The Farmhouse’ uses the concept of timber’s modular stackability and vertical farming to create a new future of food production. Plants within the building are protected by a greenhouse-like environment that offers different ecosystems for different species and utilizes innovative water treatments to enrich the supply with various nutrients. The food waste is collected and turned into compost to grow more food. This locally grown food eventually shortens the supply chain and reduces the need for plastic and other environment-harming packaging. The verticality provides a higher crop per area ratio and eliminates the need for conversion of remaining forests and wetlands to agricultural plots.
“If we stay disconnected with our ecosystem, we cannot tackle the issues of our time. Reversing climate change, less pollution and a healthy food system is now part of the architecture. If we want to encourage people to care about the environment, we need to bring the environment into our cities.”
– Chris Precht
Along with issues of ecology and sustainability, tackling socio-economic conditions with design is also a fundamental challenge for young architects around the world. A major portion of our population is formed by underprivileged communities and creating visionary solutions for them is now of absolute importance. Andreas G. Gjertsen and Yashar Hanstad of TYIN Tegnestue Architects (now retired and split), have always worked on providing immediate and life-changing solutions for people in underdeveloped countries. Their process of designing involves healthy and detailed conversations with their design’s users to understand their problems and needs and to encourage community participation. The architects believe in using locally sourced and reused materials that serve the dual purpose of being sustainable and of creating a connection between the building and the locals.
The ‘Klong Toey Community Lantern’, situated in the largest and oldest slum dwelling of Bangkok, is an exemplary example of their effort to tackle its context’s issue with unemployment, crime, and drug abuse. Conceived as a football and basketball court, a public playground, and a residential complex, the building creates a visually open-ended, linear, and narrow form that allows its inhabitants to make iterations according to their requirements. Construction of the complex took approximately three weeks, during which the team of architects conducted workshops, interviews, and public meetings with the inhabitants of the community. Today, the project functions parallelly with its context and has changed its surroundings into a safe and enjoyable area.
“For us, sustainability is a lot about the social issue and project, because it needs to be connected to people’s dreams and visions in the local situation.”
– Andreas G. Gjertsen
Creating exemplary and problem-solving structures is just one way of changing today’s design scenario. Another important responsibility of young architects is to empower other young architects and students to build better futures. Oswaldo Ortega, an associate leading master planning, architectural and interior projects in Gensler Chicago, has committed himself to inspire people from culturally and economically diverse backgrounds to work and bring positive changes in the field of architecture and design.
As a student at Syracuse University, he founded the Society of Multicultural Architects and Designers in 2003. As president of the National Organization of Minority Architects in 2017, he formalized a strategic system of utilizing the organization’s Project Pipeline Initiative to support children from the time of their introduction to the world of architecture till their licensure exams by securing more than $200,000 worth of donations. A tireless visionary, Oswaldo Ortega demonstrates the responsibility of designers by understanding how our built environment can shape our world’s future.
From climate change and depletion of resources to increasing population and fast urbanization, we face an enormous amount of challenges concerning the sustainability of our future. Designers may not be political and social influencers, but their introspective involvement is crucial in stirring up a creative revolution for a better today and tomorrow. It is, therefore, in the hands of young architects to make contextually, ecologically, and socially aware, user-driven environments that cater to the needs of the beginning of a new design scenario.